After posting a surprise 10-6 record and finishing second in the AFC East during the 2019 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills are looking to turn themselves into a postseason mainstay with a second consecutive playoff berth. The question is: Will they succeed?
As ever, a bulk of the answer is out of the Bills’ hands. Though the NFL has expanded its playoff field for next year, only one extra team is going to make the cut. No professional sports league in America deals with more postseason turnover on a yearly basis. Teams are so often at the mercy of what happens to their rivals over the offseason.
For once, this is good news for the Bills.
The New England Patriots, long the overlords of the AFC East, have lost star quarterback Tom Brady following his decision to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Some believe his departure will actually have a positive impact on New England. Brady turns 43 before the start of next year and doesn’t have the arm that he used to.
Then again, the Patriots also don’t have an heir apparent to Brady in place. Jarrett Stidham is listed as their first quarterback ahead of the draft, which puts Bill Belichick in a sticky situation. He’s always believed his system trounces the inclusion of any one player, but this is different. Quarterback is arguably the most valuable position in all of sports. The Patriots no longer have a proven performer entrenched under center—unless, of course, they decide to sign a veteran like Cam Newton, who was released by the Carolina Panthers, or free agent Jameis Winston.
This uncertainty is baked into the Patriots’ outlook. Sports betting has become wildly popular in North America, per OnlineSportsBetting.net, and projections from oddsmakers are usually pretty accurate. This year is the first year in forever New England isn’t posting top-five Super Bowl odds, according to CBS Sports.
This is all a roundabout way of saying the Bills could get an assist from the AFC East’s shifting landscape in a bid for their first consecutive playoff berth since 1998 and 1999. The Patriots are no longer the Patriots, and without them, the Bills have no clear challenger for the top spot in their division. Neither the New York Jets nor the Miami Dolphins pose an imminent threat. They won a combined 12 games last season and are both still trying to get their offenses in order.
Of course, the Bills themselves still have some work to do. Most of that work lies on the offensive end. They appear to have found their quarterback of the future, in Josh Allen, but they’re coming off a season in which they ranked 23rd in points per game, 26th in passing yards and 24th in passing touchdowns.
Beefing up the offense must take priority. Allen needs more weapons around him if he’s going to grow into an even starrier playmaker. And yet, most don’t anticipate the Bills addressing these issues earlier in the draft. Unless there’s a running back available when they’re on the clock, they’re more likely to look at adding defensive ends and linebackers to shore up what was the league’s second-ranked defense last season.
Just as well, because it’s tough for rookies to have a positive impact on playoff hopefuls. Some coaches of said teams won’t even give them playing time. For a squad in the Bills’ position, it’s all about adding proven veterans to elevate your ceiling.
Buffalo has to some extent checked that box. The front office swung a blockbuster trade for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs. He finally gives Allen and the Bills a legitimate No. 1 pass-catcher to target all over the field. That move on its own should significantly buoy their position.
Still, Diggs’ arrival doesn’t completely erase the Bills’ other offensive questions—and there are plenty.
Will John Brown remain healthy enough to be their No. 2 receiver? Is he even a No. 2 receiver? What kind of production can they expect from their No. 3 wideout, Cole Beasley? Is the backfield deep enough with T.J. Yeldon and Devin Singletary, or does the team need to make another move?
That last question is paramount. Both Singletary and Yeldon are solid when they’re at their best, but the Bills need someone they can leverage in play-actions for Allen, otherwise he’s liable to get bottled up more times than necessary behind the line of scrimmage.
And if we’re being honest, the wide receiver situation isn’t exactly ideal. Diggs may be a viable No. 1 option, but he lasted only so long in that role with Minnesota before getting usurped by Adam Thielen and frequently disappearing from the team’s game plan.
Despite all that, many experts aren’t as concerned about the Bills following Diggs’ rival. According to ESPN’s cadre of NFL writers, Buffalo could be one of the nine or 10 best teams in the entire league. The line of thought here is that the Bills have taken a great defense and made it even better while at least doing more than the bare minimum to prop up the offense.
All that, coupled with the shrinking competition in the AFC East, and Buffalo looks like it’s sitting pretty ahead of the regular season. Time will tell whether this confidence is validated, or if the Bills from last year were, somehow, a flash in the pan.
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